Palace set to fight court OK of Garcia plea bargainBy Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Malacañang is determined to fight the Sandiganbayan ruling affirming the plea bargain agreement between then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and former Armed Forces of the Philippines comptroller Carlos Garcia.
The government’s top lawyer, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima have been told to “take action,” Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang announced Thursday at a briefing in the Palace.
“We are very disturbed by this development,” said Carandang of the 73-page joint resolution promulgated on Wednesday by the antigraft court’s Special Second Division through Associate Justice Samuel Martirez.
The resolution denied the motion filed by government lawyers, through the Office of the Solicitor General, to intervene “for utter paucity of merit.”
It also dismissed the SolGen’s ruling to set aside the plea bargaining agreement.
Under the agreement, Garcia pleaded not guilty in 2010 to direct bribery and facilitating money laundering, and was no longer charged with plunder, which carries the penalty of life imprisonment. He was allowed to post bail.
Garcia also cleared his family of involvement in the cases he is facing in court.
He also agreed to transfer to the government various assets valued at P135.433 million. Garcia was later released after posting a P60,000 bail.
The Sandiganbayan also said that there was insufficient evidence to convict Garcia of plunder, a nonbailable offense, on the basis of allegations that he received commissions, gifts and kickbacks totaling P303 million from government contractors.
The antigraft court said it could not gratuitously assume that the funds of Garcia and his family were accumulated because of his position in the AFP.
Asked how the Sandigan decision would affect President Aquino’s anticorruption drive, Carandang said, “As you know, this issue led to the impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, and so we’re certainly disturbed by this latest development.”
“Right now, the Department of Justice and the solicitor general are studying what legal options we may take, but we don’t have a definite course of action right now. But the Department of Justice and the solicitor general are on it,” he said.
Asked about chances, if any, of Garcia evading prosecution, Carandang said, “We’re prepared to take action to contest that.”
Wife, three children
In April 2005, the Office of the Ombudsman slapped Garcia, his wife and three children with a P303-million plunder case for illegal accumulation of wealth.
The case stemmed from an AFP investigation and the Office of the Ombudsman following the detention of two of Garcia’s three sons at San Francisco International Airport in December 2003 for not declaring that they were carrying $100,000 in cash.
P143M not in SALN
In its probe, the Ombudsman found that Garcia, who earned a monthly income of P36,015, had not declared P143 million worth of assets in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for a number of years.
The Ombudsman ordered his suspension for six months and petitioned the Sandiganbayan antigraft court for the forfeiture of his assets. Garcia was confined to quarters and ordered subjected to court-martial.
40 accounts frozen
The Court of Appeals later ordered the freeze of 40 bank accounts of Garcia and his family. The US government also froze Garcia’s real estate holdings in the states of New York and Ohio.
In November 2004, the Ombudsman filed four counts of perjury against him in connection with the SALN he filed from 1997 to 2000.
Garcia was arrested in June 2005 following the filing of plunder charges in the Sandiganbayan.
In December 2005, a military court found Garcia guilty of violating Articles of War 96 and 97 (or conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline) for not declaring his true assets and for holding permanent-resident status in the United States.
2 years of hard labor
Garcia was sentenced to two years of hard labor and dismissed dishonorably from the service, thus forfeiting his retirement benefits.
In March 2010, Garcia pleaded not guilty to the money-laundering charge filed by the Ombudsman against him and his family for allegedly conspiring to deposit and withdraw illegally acquired huge amounts using numerous bank accounts between July 2002 and July 2004.
In December 2010, Garcia, after being detained for six years while on trial, was ordered released by the Sandiganbayan after his camp had struck a plea bargain deal with state prosecutors.
But after avoiding conviction in the civilian court, Garcia was convicted in September 2011 by a military court for violation of Articles of War 96 and 97. He was arrested and sent to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City to serve two years in prison.—With a report from Inquirer Research